One of my favourite pubs in London is The Holly Bush, in Hampstead, so I thought I’d introduce you.
I’m often to be found in here, deep in conversation by the open fire, or staring fondly into the depths of a glass of cider in one of the wood-panelled booths. There are nooks and corners for hiding away in, and larger tables in the back room if you’re bringing a party. It has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, and is wonderfully free of the bellowing city boys central London establishments are plagued by. It’s usually busy as it’s not the best kept secret, but I always phone up and reserve a table, which strategy has never failed, even late on a Friday afternoon.
There are plenty of ales on tap, as well as Aspalls cider; a godsend if you’re pretending to be ladylike and prefer sipping halves. They also have a good selection of scotch, and the staff are friendly and helpful… and often delightfully eccentric! In addition to the beautiful surroundings, the interesting staff and the excellent range of alcohol, the food is also incredible. Not your usual pub fare at all, though their Sunday roasts are highly renowned. The last time I met my friend Hannah there for a drink, I had the smoked duck egg. As a main course it doesn’t sound the best, does it, but out of curiosity and faith I put my trust in them, and the Holly Bush certainly didn’t let me down.
My meal arrived on a large piece of slate, with a curious white dome in the centre of it. The glass dome was lifted off with a flourish, and a cloud of smoke swirled out before disappearing into the shadows. After this piece of theatre I was left with two large fried duck-eggs, placed on top of creamy mashed potato, itself piled on top of a bed of thinly sliced greens – possibly celeriac, with its subtly nutty, celery-like flavour. Surrounding this was a selection of wild mushrooms Hugh FW would have been impressed by, including winter chanterelles and a huge cep. Everything was infused with a subtle smokiness, and the whole dish was both exciting and delicious. I can’t remember what Hannah had I’m afraid, as my attention was completely focussed on my own meal (I actually stopped talking for a good ten minutes, which rare occurrence she was particularly impressed by) but I’m told it was also excellent. Tom always orders one of their gourmet scotch eggs as a starter, or even if we just pop in for a drink, as he claims they make the best he’s ever had (and he’s from the North, which makes him an expert). The menu is regularly updated, the food is consistently excellent, and they always have an interesting vegetarian option.
Isn’t that just the most exciting way to present a meal?
Tottering home through the cobbled streets of Hampstead also feels like stepping back in time, and is a far more pleasant end to the evening than walking past vomiting clubbers closer to the centre of London. Let me know if you pop in for a drink, or if you have any other recommendations for similar watering-holes in the UK (anywhere at all, I will travel!)
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